Development aid debate – today and post-2015

Further to my 24 September post on the re-emerging debate in Britain about foreign aid, I neglected a major reason why the government’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on development assistance isn’t changing: Prime Minister David Cameron is co-chair of the UN High Level Panel on the future of development. No surprise, then, that he confirmed the 0.7 per cent commitment straight after the panel’s first meeting.

But as I said in my previous post, this is a debate that’s not going to go away. And there are ways in which it could develop that are by no means bad; take a look at the comments on my 24 Sept post for some examples of the range of views coming into play and a conservative paper’s letters page for some more.

Some of the most trenchant criticisms are not aimed at the principle of foreign aid but, rather,  at the distance between stated aim and reality of implementation. They are as much about ethics as efficiency and effectiveness.

When development organisations – whether government aid ministries or independent NGOs – fail to get grips with those arguments, they fail in their broader responsibilities.

Behind some of the most strongly expressed critiques of aid is a wealth of knowledge and some real insight. Many hard-working professionals and supporters of development aid will be appalled by this headline on an article by Ian Birrell: “Snouts in the aid trough! The armies of money-grabbing consultants growing rich off Britain’s ballooning foreign aid budget.” But read into it and however annoying you might find some parts, there’s much that’s worth grasping and reflecting on.

I fail to understand how and why defenders of the aid orthodoxy seem unable to get to grips with these and other criticisms. Defensiveness and denial are not going to protect the aid budget, assist development or uphold the commitment to reduce poverty.

Meanwhile as the 2015 target date of the current set of Millennium Development Goals gets closer and the debate about what to do afterwards rolls on, some interesting thoughts to entertain and enlighten us respectively about what kind of people fill up these high level panels (5 kinds, apparently) and what makes for good international agreements.

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